How to Spot a Perfect Fake: the World's Top Art Forgery Detective
June 18, 2018 1:52 PM   Subscribe

A wonderful profile by Samanth Subramanian of James Martin, perhaps the world's best forensic forgery detection expert, waging a battle with increasingly skilled forgers who have set off a "crisis of authentication" in "a time when the art market is synonymous with art itself."

Two enjoyable snippets:

"Working with the same steady, cautious manner in which he speaks, he teased out a particle smaller than the width of a human hair, flattened it gently, then nudged it on to a slim, small rectangle of metal, where it was held in place between two tiny diamonds.

“You don’t drink a lot of coffee before you do this,” he said, grimacing."

and

The night before his flight, Martin was unable to sleep, so he Googled the collector and found that he had recently been released from federal prison after serving time on weapons charges.

Next morning, Martin called the collector and turned down the case.

“Oh,” the collector said. “Did you read about the murders?”

“No,” Martin said. “What murders?”
posted by mecran01 (21 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hah, excellent, thanks for posting this.
posted by PussKillian at 2:16 PM on June 18


This is relevant to my interests; thanks for the post! (I haven't RTFA yet bc I am too excited but I wanted to say YAY! now)
posted by pointystick at 2:32 PM on June 18


Fascinating read, thanks.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:51 PM on June 18


What happens to the amazing fakes, though? I would like an amazing fake Rembrandt, frex, and would not object to spending a few K on it.

also in this day and age of highly focused obsessions complemented by easy access to a wide variety of information and materials, it seems extremely strange that there aren't any super intensely dedicated art forgers who live like totally immersed cosplayers wearing only authentic time period fabrics and using only authentic time period pigments and techniques.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:02 PM on June 18 [5 favorites]


I find this stuff so fascinating!

A conservator wondering if the strange sky in a landscape was overpaint – paint applied by later restorers – could mail Martin a tiny cross-section tweezed out of the work, so that he could examine it under a microscope. “We’d see the layers in the cross-section: varnish, varnish, varnish, then blue sky, then more varnish, then more sky. So we’d establish that the topmost layer of blue was overpaint.”

Such detailed work.
posted by hepta at 3:06 PM on June 18


I have now RTFA & it was great. I have read a lot about fakes of Old Masters but I had never thought much about more recent painters being forgeries - I don't know why I never thought about that being A Thing which it obviously is since the article references this:

In January, in a celebrated Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, 20 out of 21 paintings were revealed to be counterfeits.

Damn.
posted by pointystick at 3:35 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Terrific post, thanks!
posted by jasper411 at 3:38 PM on June 18


poffin boffin, they're waiting for the cosplaying Medicis to appear.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:45 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Why couldn't certain lost paintings be replaced with an acknowledged forgery? The linked painting was just amazing, I remember returning to the Gardner Museum a couple time mainly to look at it before the famous theft. Due to the bequest rules there is an empty frame but just so what if a perfect replica (again properly acknowledged) was in place, it would be just as wonderful.
posted by sammyo at 4:12 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


but just so what if a perfect replica (again properly acknowledged) was in place, it would be just as wonderful.

But then it would become valuable, and somebody would steal it, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:24 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


What happens to the amazing fakes, though? I would like an amazing fake Rembrandt, frex, and would not object to spending a few K on it.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:02 PM on June 18


I can't comment about any from the article but I can say that I had the opportunity to handle some really impressive (to my eye) fakes, including a Riopelle that were in the collection of the Toronto Police Services Museum. They weren't on display at the time (and I doubt they are now). Somebody had to dig them out of the archives to show them to me. I must admit, it was a bit of a weird experience handling something (counterfeit art) that had only ever read about or seen on TV or in the movies, especially pieces that were deliberately made as fakes to defraud people and not just loving homages done by art students.
posted by sardonyx at 4:54 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I would like an amazing fake Rembrandt,

Should not be a problem, hunt around art schools there are amazing talents that could use a few extra bucks, just be sure it's just "in the style" and incorporates a small pokeman in the lower left corner.
posted by sammyo at 5:04 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


just be sure it's just "in the style" and incorporates a small pokeman in the lower left corner.

You could always get yourself nobilified.
posted by clawsoon at 5:16 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I can't comment about any from the article but I can say that I had the opportunity to handle some really impressive (to my eye) fakes, including a Riopelle that were in the collection of the Toronto Police Services Museum. They weren't on display at the time (and I doubt they are now).

The Museo Criminologico in Rome (which Google says is permanently closed) has a few on display. (Well, one assumes they're forgeries. The possibility exists they're unclaimed because the people they were stolen from stole them. But you'd think the Italian government would be keeping them in an art museum, not a tiny museum in the prison ministry.)
posted by hoyland at 5:17 PM on June 18


That was riveting. Thank you for posting it.
posted by davebush at 5:32 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Basically all of Rome is itself an enormous interactive art museum though.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:37 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I love stories about art forgeries, they totally fascinate me. And this one was particularly good, thank you. There's so many fakes around! Personally I like paintings for the feeling they give me rather than the name and history so I don't care if something is just a good fake if it's basically equally good, but I can see how other people feel differently.

In fact, I have an oil painting at home I call "My Fake Corot" because it looks *just* like one of his paintings, but its unsigned and therefore technically a copy rather than a fake. I love it though.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:04 AM on June 19


Interesting that such is his painting skill, Martin could have become a forger himself.

(Hmm. Could have?)
posted by Kiwi at 5:44 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't it be glorious for armchair conspiracy theorists everywhere if James Martin just one day vanished. Poof like in a novel. Then later stories slowly emerging of small snippets of hints of an unknown tall man on a yacht discovering authentic paintings and just giving them to locals on far away exotic islands.
posted by sammyo at 8:00 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


This was a great read.

I must confess that over time, my sympathies have shifted towards the art forgers - if it's good enough to fool even the so-called experts, and it takes chemical analysis to tell that it's a recent copy, do I actually care? (Of course art historians care. But should I?)

In fact, if some rich hedge fund manager hangs a forgery in his yacht under the mistaken impression that it was painted in 1683 and a forger gets to retire on the proceeds, I'm having a hard time pointing to the real criminal.

The article does a decent job of acknowledging it:
As a crime, art forgery can seem trifling – less a sinister outrage than a half-complete Robin Hood jape that merely robs the rich. After Beltracchi’s arrest in 2010, the Frankfurter Allgemeine called art forgery “the most moral way to embezzle €16m” [...] But the crime can have real victims [...] people who used the money set aside for their children’s education to buy a painting, only to find it to be fake.
I'm having a hard time sympathizing.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:32 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


poffin boffin - you might be interested in looking into art reproductions [huffingtonpost.ca] from out of China.
posted by porpoise at 3:35 PM on June 19


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